Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Thomas of Woodstock

THOMAS of Woodstock, Earl of Buckingham and Duke of Gloucester (1355–1397), seventh and youngest son of Edward III and Philippa of Hainault, was born at Woodstock on 7 Jan. 1354–5 (Walsingham, i. 280). Edward provided for his youngest son by affiancing him in 1374 to a rich heiress, Eleanor, the elder of the two daughters of the last Bohun, earl of Hereford, Essex, and Northampton. The earls of Hereford having been hereditary constables of England, Thomas received a grant on 10 June 1376 of that office during pleasure, with a thousand marks a year to keep it up, and was summoned as constable to the parliament of January 1377 (Rot. Parl. ii. 363). He appears later at all events to have been styled Earl of Essex in right of his wife (Complete Peerage, iv. 43). Having been knighted by his father at Windsor on 23 April 1377 he carried the sceptre and the dove at the coronation of his nephew, Richard II, and was created Earl of Buckingham (15 July), with a grant of a thousand pounds a year out of the alien priories (Cal. of Pat. Rolls, i. 372). A considerable part of the Bohun estates had already, in anticipation of his wife's majority, been placed in his keeping, including Pleshey Castle in Essex, which became his chief seat; and in May 1380, his wife being now of age, he was also given custody of the share of her younger sister, Mary (ib. pp. 66, 502).

A French and Spanish fleet ravaging the southern coast in the summer, Buckingham and his brother Edmund averted a landing at Dover (Froissart, viii. 237). In October he was sent against the Spaniards, who were windbound at Sluys, but his squadron was scattered by a storm. Refitting and following the Spaniards down the Channel, he captured eight of their ships off Brest, returning after Christmas (Walsingham, i. 343, 364). On the Duke of Brittany handing over (April 1378) Brest Castle to the English king for the rest of the war, Buckingham was one of those appointed to take it over (Fœdera, iv. 36). But the duke's position soon began to grow untenable, and Buckingham was sent to his aid in June 1380, as lieutenant of the king, at the head of some five thousand men (Fœdera, iv. 92; Froissart, ix. c.). His staff included some of his father's most distinguished warriors—Sir Hugh Calveley [q. v.], Sir Robert Knollys [q. v.], Sir Thomas Percy (afterwards Earl of Worcester) [q. v.] and others. Avoiding the dangers of the Channel, the army landed at Calais (19 July) and plunged into the heart of northern France (ib. ix. 238 sqq.; Walsingham, i. 434). Penetrating as far south as Troyes (about 24 Aug.), where the Duke of Burgundy had collected an army but did not venture to give battle, Buckingham struck westwards, through Beauce and Maine, for Brittany. The death of Charles V on 16 Sept. weakened the resistance opposed to his progress; the passage of the Sarthe was forced, Brittany entered late in the autumn, and siege laid to Nantes. But the duke soon made his peace with Charles VI, and about the new year Buckingham raised the siege of Nantes and quartered his troops in the southern ports of Brittany, whence they were shipped home in the spring. The chagrin of failure was enhanced by a private mortification which awaited him. His relations with his ambitious elder brother, John of Gaunt, had never been cordial. At the close of the late reign Lancaster had inflicted a marked slight upon him by putting his own son Henry (afterwards Henry IV), a mere boy, into the order of the Garter in preference to his uncle, and Buckingham did not enter the order till April 1380. Since Richard's accession the younger brother had been as popular as the elder was generally hated. During Buckingham's absence in France Lancaster married his son to Mary Bohun, younger sister of Buckingham's wife (Complete Peerage, v. 9). This could not be agreeable to her brother-in-law, who had secured the custody of her estates, and, according to Froissart, hoped to persuade her to become a nun.

In June 1381 Buckingham dispersed the insurgents in Essex, and in the following October held an ‘oyer and terminer’ at Cambridge (Walsingham, ii. 18; Doyle, ii. 19). By 1384 the young king's evident determination to rule through instruments of his own drew together Buckingham and Lancaster. They were associated in the expedition into Scotland early in this year, and in the negotiations with France and Flanders. When Lancaster was accused of treason in the April parliament at Salisbury, Buckingham burst into the king's chamber and swore with great oaths to kill any one, no matter whom, who should bring such charges against his brother (Walsingham, ii. 114). Richard for a time deferred more to his uncles, and during his Scottish expedition in the following year created Buckingham Duke of Gloucester (6 Aug. 1385), and granted him a thousand pounds a year from the exchequer by letters patent, dated at Hoselowelogh in Teviotdale (Rot. Parl. iii. 206). In the parliament which met in October Richard formally confirmed this elevation, and invested his uncle with the dignity, girding him with a sword and placing a cap with a circlet of gold on his head (ib.; Sandford, p. 231). To this parliament, curiously enough, he was summoned as Duke of Albemarle, though neither he nor his children ever again assumed that style, and he did not get possession of Holderness, which usually went with it, until 1388 (Dugdale, ii. 170). It has been suggested that this may be a case of a foreign title, i.e. a Norman dukedom (Complete Peerage, i. 56). In elevating his two younger uncles, Gloucester and Edmund, duke of York [see Langley, Edmund de], to the ducal dignity, Richard perhaps hoped to sow fresh dissension between them and John of Gaunt, and to cover his promotion of his humbly born minister, Michael de la Pole, to the earldom of Suffolk. If so, it did not serve its purpose, for Gloucester, on John of Gaunt's departure to Spain, placed himself openly at the head of the opposition to the king, and was one of the judges who condemned Suffolk in 1386, and a member of the commission for the reform of the household and realm. Richard is alleged to have plotted his murder at a dinner. Such charges were made too freely at the time to command implicit credence; but Gloucester, who forced Richard to dismiss Suffolk by threatening him with the fate of Edward II, had certainly given extreme provocation. When the king in August 1387 procured a declaration from the judges that the authors of the commission were guilty of treason and began to raise forces, Gloucester and his friends sought to avert the storm by swearing a solemn oath on the gospels before the bishop of London that they had been actuated by no personal motives, but only by anxiety for Richard's own honour and interests. Gloucester, however, refused to forego his revenge upon De Vere, whom the king had made duke of Ireland. De Vere had repudiated his niece for a Bohemian serving-woman. Failing to get support from the Londoners against Gloucester, who took up arms with the Earls of Arundel and Warwick, Richard spoke them fair, and affected to agree to the impeachment of his favourites in the parliament which was to meet in February 1388. But on his sending the Duke of Ireland to raise an army in Cheshire, and attempting to pack the parliament, the three lords met at Huntingdon (12 Dec.) and talked of deposing the king. Joined by the Earls of Derby and Nottingham, they routed De Vere at Radcotbridge (20 Dec.), and, the Londoners opening their gates, they got admission to the Tower on the 27th, and entered the presence of the helpless king with linked arms. Gloucester showed him their forces on Tower Hill, and ‘soothed his mind’ by assurances that ten times their number were ready to join in destroying the traitors to the king and the realm (Knighton, ii. 256). Had Gloucester not been overruled by Derby and Nottingham, Richard would have been deposed, and he was no doubt chiefly responsible for the vindictiveness of the Merciless parliament. His insistence on the execution of Sir Simon Burley [q. v.] involved him in a heated quarrel with the Earl of Derby (Walsingham, ii. 174).

Gloucester and his associates held the reins of power for more than twelve months, not without some attempt to justify their promises of reform, but they did not hesitate to obtain the enormous parliamentary grant of 20,000l. by way of reimbursing them for their patriotic sacrifices. Gloucester also secured the lordship of Holderness, the castle, town, and manor of Oakham, with the sheriffdom of Rutland (which had belonged to his wife's ancestors), and the office of chief justice of Chester and North Wales, which gave him a hold over a district attached to Richard by local loyalty (Dugdale, ii. 170; Ormerod, i. 63). The king resuming the government in May 1389, and promising his subjects better government, Gloucester was naturally in disgrace. But through the good offices of the Earl of Northumberland and of John of Gaunt, now returned from Spain, his peace was made. As early as 10 Dec. he once more appeared in the council, was given, with his brothers, some control over crown grants, and allowed to retain his chief-justiceship of Chester (Ord. Privy Council, i. 17, 18 b). Grants of money were also made to him (Dugdale, ii. 170). But he doubtless felt that he had no real influence with the king, and this, combined with emulation of his nephew Derby's recent achievements in Prussia [see Henry IV], may have induced him to undertake in September 1391 a mission to the master of the Teutonic order. But a storm drove him back along the coasts of Denmark, Norway, and Scotland; and, narrowly escaping destruction, he landed at Tynemouth, whence he returned home to Pleshey (Fœdera, vii. 705–6; Walsingham, ii. 202). He must have been disquieted to find that the king during his absence had secured an admission from parliament that the proceedings of 1386–8 had in no way curtailed his prerogative (Rot. Parl. iii. 286).

Early in 1392 Richard appointed Gloucester his lieutenant in Ireland only to supersede him suddenly in favour of the young Earl of March in July, just as he was about to start, ‘par certeynes causes qui a ce nous mouvent’ (King's Council in Ireland, pp. 255, 258). Gloucester was then holding an inquiry into a London riot, but this may not have been the sole cause of his supersession (Rot. Parl. iii. 324). The king, it is worth noticing, was seeking the canonisation of Edward II, with whose fate he had been threatened by his uncle six years before (Issues, p. 247).

The Cheshire men rose against Gloucester and Lancaster in the spring of 1393, while they were negotiating at Calais, in the belief that it was the king's wish, and Richard had to publish a disavowal (Annales, p. 159; Fœdera, vii. 746). There is some reason to think the Earl of Arundel was trying to force on a crisis. Gloucester had now to give up his post of chief justice of Chester to Richard's henchman Nottingham, but was consoled with a fresh grant of Holderness and Oakham, and certain estates that had belonged to De Vere (Pat. Rolls, 17–18 Ric. II). Yet he cannot but have been rendered uneasy by the king's quiet attacks upon the work of the Merciless parliament and his serious breach with Arundel after the queen's death in June 1394 (Rot. Parl. iii. 302, 316; Annales, p. 424). Richard took him with him to Ireland in September, but sent him back in the spring of 1395 to obtain a grant from the new parliament. It is plain from Froissart's account of his visit to England in the ensuing summer that Gloucester's relations with the court were getting strained. The courtiers accused the duke of malice and cunning, and said that he had a good head, but was proud and wonderfully overbearing in his manners. His advocacy of coercion to make the Gascons receive John of Gaunt as their duke was put down to his desire to have the field to himself at home. He disapproved too of the proposed French marriage and peace, and the negotiations were carried through by others, though he was present, willingly or unwillingly, at the marriage festivities in October 1396 near Calais. In the early months of 1397 mutual provocations followed swiftly upon one another. Gloucester may have prompted Haxey's petition in the January parliament in which Richard saw an attempt to repeat the coercion of 1386 [see Haxey, Thomas]. It was afterwards alleged by French writers favourable to Richard that Gloucester, Arundel, and Warwick engaged in a conspiracy which aimed at the perpetual imprisonment of the king and his two elder uncles (Chronique de la Traison, pp. 3–7). But Richard himself did not attempt to bring home to them any such definite charge, and everything points to his having resolved upon their destruction, and taken them by surprise. He had at first intended to arrest them at a dinner, to which they were invited, but Gloucester, who was at Pleshey, excused himself on the plea of illness (Annales, p. 201). On the evening of 10 July, after the arrest of Warwick and Arundel, Richard, accompanied by the London trained bands, set off for Pleshey, which was reached early the next morning. Gloucester, who was perhaps really ill, came out to meet him at the head of a solemn procession of the priests and clerks of his newly founded college (Evesham, p. 130; Hardyng, p. 345; Annales, pp. 203 sqq.) As he bent in obeisance, Richard with his own hand arrested him, and, leading the procession to the chapel, assured his ‘bel oncle’ that all would turn out for the best. According to another version, Gloucester begged for his life, and was told that he should have the same grace he had shown to Burley (Eulogium, iii. 372). After breakfast Richard set off with most of his followers, leaving Gloucester in charge of the Earl of Kent and Sir Thomas Percy, who conveyed him direct to Calais. The statement that he was first taken to the Tower sounds doubtful (Hardyng, p. 345; Fabyan, p. 542; Traison, p. 8). At Calais Gloucester was in the keeping of its captain, the Earl of Nottingham, a prominent partisan of the king. About the beginning of September it was announced (‘feust notifié,’ which surely implies more than mere report) both in England and in Calais that he was dead; the date given was 25 or 26 Aug., and the former is the day of his death entered on the escheat roll (Rot. Parl. iii. 431, 452; Gregory, p. 96; Dugdale, ii. 172). It was therefore with intense surprise that Sir William Rickhill [q. v.], a justice of the common pleas, who by order of the king accompanied Nottingham to Calais on 7 Sept., heard on his arrival that he was to interview Gloucester and carefully report all that he should say to him. What made the matter more mysterious still, his instructions were dated three weeks before (17 Aug.) There is no reason to doubt Rickhill's account of his interview with Gloucester on 8 Sept. He took care to have witnesses, and his story was fully accepted by the first parliament of the next reign. It is obvious that Richard could not safely produce his uncle for trial in the forthcoming parliament, and there was only less danger in meeting the houses with a bare announcement of his death. Rickhill was introduced to his presence in the castle early on the morning of 8 Sept., and, in the presence of two witnesses, begged him to put what he had to say in writing and keep a copy. Late in the evening he returned, and Gloucester, before the same witnesses, read a written confession in nine articles, which he then handed to Rickhill. He admitted verbally that he had threatened the king with deposition in 1388 if the sentence on Sir Simon Burley were not carried out, and requested Rickhill to come back next day in case he should remember any omission. This he did, but was refused an audience of the duke by order of Nottingham (Rot. Parl. iii. 431–2). Parliament met on 17 Sept., and on the 21st a writ was issued to the captain of Calais to bring up his prisoner. Three days later he briefly replied that he could not do this because the duke was dead. On the petition of the lords appellant and the commons, the peers declared him guilty of treason as having levied arms against the king in 1387, and his estates consequently forfeited. His confession, which is in English, was read in parliament next day, but omitting, as Rickhill afterwards declared, those articles which were ‘contrary to the intent and purpose’ of the king. He admitted helping to put the king under restraint in 1386, entering his presence armed, opening his letters, speaking of him in slanderous wise in audience of other folk, discussing the possibility of giving up their homage to him, and of his deposition. But he declared that they had only thought of deposing him for two days or three and then restoring him, and that if he had ‘done evil and against his Regalie,’ it had been in fear of his life, and ‘to do the best for his person and estate.’ Since renewing his oath of allegiance on God's body at Langley he had never been guilty of fresh treason. He therefore besought the king ‘for the passion that God suffered for all mankind, and the compassion that he had of his mother on the cross and the pity that he had of Mary Magdalen,’ to grant him his mercy and grace. The confession is printed in full in the ‘Rolls of Parliament’ (iii. 378–9) from an original sealed copy, but an examination of the roll of the actual proceedings shows that the exculpatory clauses and the final appeal were omitted, and the date of Rickhill's interview carefully suppressed. All who were not in the secret would suppose it to have taken place between 17 Aug., the date of his commission, and 25 Aug., which had been given out as the day of Gloucester's death. There were obvious reasons for not disclosing the fact that he had been alive little more than a week before parliament met. Why the murder—for the hypothesis of a natural death is practically excluded—was left to the eleventh hour we can only conjecture. Perhaps Nottingham shrank from the deed (Eulogium, iii. 373), perhaps Gloucester refused to make his confession earlier. The mutilated confession was published in every county in England. In the first parliament of Henry IV a certain John Halle, a former servant of Nottingham, swore that Gloucester, under orders from the king, had been smothered beneath a feather-bed in a house at Calais, called the Prince's Inn, by William Serle, a servant of Richard's chamber, and several esquires and valets of the Earls of Nottingham and Rutland in the month of September 1397 (Rot. Parl. iii. 452). Halle, who had kept the door, was executed, and, though he was not publicly examined, there seems no strong reason to doubt the main features of his story. Serle, on falling into Henry's hands in 1404, suffered the same fate. In France Gloucester was thought to have been strangled (St. Denys, ii. 552; Froissart).

Richard ordered Nottingham on 14 Oct. to deliver the body to Richard Maudeleyn, to be given by him to the widow for burial in Westminster Abbey (Fœdera, viii. 20, 21). But on the 31st of the same month he commanded her to take it to the priory of Bermondsey instead (ib. viii. 24). Froissart, who has been followed by Dugdale and later writers, says that he was buried in Pleshey church (which he had collegiated and endowed under a license obtained in 1393); but Adam of Usk (p. 38) expressly states that Richard buried him in Westminster Abbey, but in the south of the church (in the chapel of St. Edmund), quite away from the royal burial-place. It was removed to the chapel of the kings near the shrine of St. Edward, the spot he had selected in his lifetime, by Henry IV in 1399 (cf. Nichol's Royal Wills, p. 177). His elaborate brass, in which there were some twenty figures, is engraved in Sandford (p. 227), but nothing save the matrices now remains.

Gloucester's proud, fierce, and intolerant nature, which provoked the lasting and fatal resentment of his nephew, may be read in the portrait (from Cott. MS. Nero, D. vii) engraved in Doyle's ‘Official Baronage.’ It bears no resemblance to the alleged portrait engraved in Grose's ‘Antiquarian Repertory’ (ii. 209). He composed about 1390 ‘L'Ordonnance d'Angleterre pour le Camp à l'outrance, ou gaige de bataille’ (Chronique de la Traison, p. 132 n.; Antiquarian Repertory, ii. 210–19). A finely illuminated vellum copy of Wyclif's earlier version of his translation of the Bible—now in the British Museum—was once Gloucester's property; his armorial shield appears in the border of the first page.

By his wife Eleanor Bohun he had one son and three or four daughters. His only son, Humphrey, born about 1381, was taken to Ireland by Richard in 1399, and, on the news of Bolingbroke's landing, confined with his son (afterwards Henry V) in Trim Castle. Recalled by Henry IV immediately after, he died on the road, some said by shipwreck, others more probably of the plague in Anglesey (Usk, p. 28; Leland, Collectanea, iii. 384; cf. Archæologia, xx. 173). He was buried at Walden Abbey in Essex. Three of his sisters were named respectively Anne, Joan, and Isabel. A fourth, Philippa, who died young, is mentioned by Sandford. Anne (1380?–1438) married, first, in 1392, Thomas, third earl of Stafford, but he dying in that year, she became in 1398 the wife of his brother Edmund, fifth earl of Stafford, by whom she was mother of Humphrey Stafford, first duke of Buckingham [q. v.]; on his death she took a third husband (1404), William Bourchier, count of Eu, to whom she bore Henry, earl of Essex, Archbishop Bourchier, and two other sons; she died on 16 Oct. 1438 (Royal Wills, p. 278). Joan (d. 1400) was betrothed to Gilbert, lord Talbot, elder brother of the first Earl of Shrewsbury, but she died unmarried on 16 Aug. 1400 (Dugdale, i. 172; cf. Sandford, p. 234). Isabel (b. 1384) became a nun in the Minories outside Aldgate, London.

Gloucester's widow made her will at Pleshey on 9 Aug. 1399, and died of grief at the loss of her son, it is said, at the Minories on 3 Oct. following (Royal Wills, p. 177; Annales, p. 321). She lies buried close to the first resting-place of her husband in the abbey under a fine brass, which is engraved by Sandford (p. 230). He is no doubt mistaken in asserting that she died in the abbey of Barking, where she became a nun.

[Rotuli Parliamentorum; Issues of the Exchequer, ed. Devon; Calendar of Patent Rolls, 1895–7; Rymer's Fœdera, Record and original edits.; Ordinances of the Privy Council, ed. Nicolas; Walsingham's Historia Anglicana, Annales Ricardi II (with Trokelowe), Knighton, the Eulogium Historiarum, and Roll of King's Council in Ireland, 1392–3 (in Rolls Series); Chronique de la Traison et Mort de Richard II, ed. Engl. Hist. Soc.; Chron. of the Monk of Evesham, ed. Hearne; Adam of Usk, ed. Maunde Thompson; Froissart, ed. Luce and Kervyn de Lettenhove; Chronique du Religieux de St. Denys, ed. Bellaguet; Dugdale's Baronage; Sandford's Genealogical History of the Kings of England, ed. 1677; Gough's History of Pleshy; Newcourt's Repertorium Ecclesiasticum Parochiale Londinense, ii. 469 (for his college); G. E. C[okayne]'s Complete Peerage; Doyle's Official Baronage; Wallon's Richard II; other authorities in the text.]

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